For that reason, it is important to appreciate that we are still a long way off from anything that looks like rapprochement. By the same token, I am skeptical about the utility of an Obama-Rouhani meeting, as advocated by others. I would question whether the benefits of a personal interaction really outweigh the domestic political risks, particularly for Rouhani. A handshake with the Great Satan’s president would be reasonably popular on the streets, but I suspect many Iranian political figures — even beyond the hard-liners — would wonder what Rouhani had received in return for overcoming one of the most longstanding and fiercely guarded dimensions of the regime’s official dogma.
I think it is much more viable and productive to focus on contacts where they can be substantive, and where they can in fact facilitate a better understanding and some momentum at the negotiating table. In that sense, I’d be focused on trying to secure some quality time between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif; they have had prior contact during Zarif’s time in NYC, and they both have direct-line responsibility for the nuclear talks.
The problem with engagement
At the end of the day, as we all know thorny national security issues don’t just involve the military; political-military considerations invariably bleed into them. If the senior military’s leadership views are going to be just constrained to military advice … who is thinking about issues from that broader perspective?